NAPLES — With family in at least four different states, and at 68, Frank Halas just wants a little more private time to visit with them.
And that’s why he announced earlier this month that he will not seek a third term as Collier County’s commissioner for District 2 in North Naples.
“I have another year of office: a whole year’s worth of work. I don’t plan to be a slacker in my last year,” Halas said recently. “I’ll be pitching my fast ball until they say, ‘Commissioner, it’s time you go to the showers.’”
Commissioner Jim Coletta called Halas “a wonderful gentleman.”
Coletta’s District 5 constituents in Immokalee are largely overlooked, Coletta said, but not by Halas.
“Frank has ... always had a special place in his heart for Immokalee, which I greatly appreciate,” said Coletta, who admired the way Halas jumped into the thick of Collier’s issues, taking an active role.
Halas surprised himself by getting involved. He never meant to enter government after a 31-year career at Ford Motor Co.
When the engineer moved to Naples from his native Michigan, it was to retire and pursue other interests.
“Little did I know that I’d ever get involved in government,” Halas said.
Now, he encourages others to do so.
“There are some (moments) that will probably remain with me for as long as I’m on this earth,” Halas said.
One was getting some $72 million from the federal government for expansion of Interstate-75 after a trip to Washington, D.C.
Another satisfying effort was helping to restore faith in local government after Stadium Naples, Halas said, although he didn’t refer to the scandal by name. The failed golf stadium project in North Naples led to bribery accusations and the indictment of several county commissioners and businessmen earlier this decade.
“When I got into office in 2002, we were still trying to build the confidence of constituents,” Halas said.
That wasn’t easy, he said, because it was after “some people had been taken out in handcuffs.”
Halas is also grateful he was able to preserve some Naples beachfront, limit building heights, realign county landfills and ease local road congestion. Construction of the Golden Gate Parkway overpass at Airport-Pulling Road was a coup.
“People were saying it was going to destroy the city ... That fight was going on when I got onboard. I found out that I was going to be the swing vote,” Halas said.
The project was approved, built and “now you look at this thing, and it’s now one of the seven wonders of Naples. And you know what? It didn’t blight the neighborhood,” Halas said, and laughed.
One of his most cherished legacies will be leaving visible skyline and beaches.
He helped stop the canyonization of Gulf Shore Boulevard, he said, alluding to a situation that occurs when rows of tall buildings surround a road or area.
The commission hasn’t approved anything taller than 10 stories in years, he said.
Shortly after dawn Sunday, Nov. 1, Halas sent out a press release, stating that he wasn’t going to seek a third term. Some found the early Sunday timing a bit odd.
It wasn’t strange for Halas.
Halas promised friends and constituents that he would make his decision by Nov. 1, “and we just didn’t think it was a good idea to send out the announcement on Halloween,” said his wife, Diane Halas.
Sit down with Diane Halas, and you hear a love story.
For good reason. They got a second chance.
They dated in high school. They married other people. When they were both again single, 37 years after their high school romance, they reconnected.
“We have been married for almost 13 years,” she said.
She didn’t anticipate her husband’s move to the commission.
“Political life was never on either of our horizons,” she said.
One alternative wasn’t exactly pleasing to his wife, Frank Halas recently recalled.
He professionally tested cars at Ford for vibration at highway speeds, so Halas has always enjoyed motor sports.
At age 60, he graduated from the Richard Petty Driving School in Atlanta. He peaked at 167 mph.
He was invited back for training at the next rung.
“Diane said, ‘I think we have other priorities,’” Halas said, and laughed.
Disappointments? At least one: It was losing out on a public marina at Wiggins Pass in northern Collier.
He’d envisioned a setting where people could pull up in boats, enjoy a little dinner, a little music, and still have direct access to the Gulf of Mexico.
When privatized, the project “displaced 450 boats that were stored there,” Halas said.
“We lost that access point. When that vote went down, I had tears in my eyes. I was all choked up.”
His pending departure from the county board saddens Commissioner Donna Fiala.
“I am so sorry to see him go. He is great to work with. When Frank feels strongly about something, he never wavered. He was always friendly, always very professional,” Fiala said.